Sanders defeats Clinton in Indiana, throwing wrench in her pivot to November

Bernie Sanders triumphed over Hillary Clinton in Indiana’s open primary Tuesday, boosting the grassroots candidate’s argument that the party’s superdelegates should flip their support to him in July’s Democratic convention.

Sanders spoke to thousands of supporters in Louisville, Ky., before Indiana’s results were in. He called for an end to closed primaries and criticized Clinton for her ties to Wall Street and paid speeches to Goldman Sachs — a sign the heated rhetoric on the Democratic side shows no signs of cooling down. Meanwhile, the likely Republican nominee, Donald Trump, won Indiana in a landslide, and his top rival Sen. Ted Cruz dropped out.

Sanders continues to trail Clinton by hundreds of pledged delegates and faces an extremely difficult path to close that gap. And Tuesday’s win doesn’t propel Sanders very far; he and Clinton will roughly split Indiana’s 83 Democratic delegates because his victory was narrow. But the win fuels the senator’s argument that he should keep fighting until the end and creates a headache for Clinton, who has made a hard pivot from frontrunner to presumptive nominee. “I think we can pull off one of the great political upsets in the history of the United States,” Sanders said in a press conference late Tuesday night.

Sanders said earlier this week that the Democratic convention will be “contested,” and told reporters Tuesday that the party’s superdelegates, almost all Clinton backers, should take a “hard look at which candidate is more likely to defeat Donald Trump.” He referenced polls that show him beating Trump by a wider margin than Clinton in hypothetical matchups.

Clinton, meanwhile, has pointedly shifted her focus away from Sanders and toward Trump, sending a signal that it’s time for him to moderate his tone and to begin unifying the party. In an interview on Tuesday with NBC’s Andrea Mitchell, Clinton laughed when asked about Sanders’ claim that the convention will be “contested” in July.

Slideshow: Indiana primaries – Sanders, Trump win and Cruz suspends >>>

“He has every right to finish out this primary season, I couldn’t argue with that,” Clinton said. She added that Sanders will “be a part of” the convention’s mission to unify the party and defeat Trump. She also reminded Sanders of his promise to support the Democratic nominee. “He also said he’ll work tirelessly seven days a week to defeat Donald Trump,” Clinton said.

The former secretary of state invested no money on ads in the Indiana primary and spent Tuesday night at home in Chappaqua, N.Y. The Clinton campaign has dramatically reduced the amount of money it spends fighting Sanders, shifting its resources to fighting off the likely Republican challenger, Donald Trump.

Still, Sanders is not accepting Clinton’s exit from the primary. He spent about $1.5 million in TV ads in Indiana. And his campaign has sharpened its rhetoric against Clinton since his loss in New York last month. On Tuesday, Sanders campaign manager Jeff Weaver sent an email to supporters sharing a Politico story about how only 1 percent of money from a Clinton-affiliated fundraising vehicle has gone to state parties. The subject line was: “This news will probably make you angry.” Last week, Sanders’ wife, Jane, called Clinton the “anointed one.”

Sanders has also repeatedly called upon Clinton to release the transcripts of her paid speeches to Goldman Sachs and hit her for her vote to authorize the 2003 invasion of Iraq. And the senator has continued to make a somewhat contradictory argument that superdelegates should flip their vote to him.

It remains to be seen whether Sanders’ ongoing challenge becomes a liability for Clinton in the general. Last week, Trump started quoting Sanders constantly on the stump, saying he was right to call her “unqualified” and that his supposed “hatred” for Clinton is justified. The real estate mogul also has called for Sanders to run as an independent.

The Clinton campaign hopes to poach Sanders’ white male and young supporters — weak constituencies for her in the primary — and the senator’s enthusiastic support would ease that process.

Clinton also could use Sanders’ help in the general election with white voters in industrial states angry about lost manufacturing jobs. Both Trump and Sanders have used her support for free trade deals against her in the Rust Belt and Appalachia. Clinton spent the past two days on a tour of heavily Trump-friendly Appalachia, where she attempted to walk back an earlier boast in a town hall in March that she would “put a lot of coal miners and coal companies out of business.” She said her earlier comments were a mistake, and that she hoped to bring jobs to West Virginia and Appalachia even as energy sources change.

Sanders’ win is unlikely to change Clinton’s laserlike focus on Trump. Her campaign has relentlessly criticized Trump for his recent “woman card” comments, and suggested he cannot pass the “commander in chief” test.

“We’re going to have a tough campaign against a candidate who will literally do or say anything,” Clinton said Tuesday.